Bloomberg’s totally unbiased abortion story

The best construction I can put on the article we’re about to look at is that Bloomberg editors and reporters accidentally put an abortion rights op-ed in the news section by accident. And yet there are enough things about the piece that make it seem like it was a failed attempt at a news story to make me think otherwise.

The op-ed article begins:

At least 58 U.S. abortion clinics — almost 1 in 10 — have shut or stopped providing the procedure since 2011 as access vanishes faster than ever amid a Republican-led push to legislate the industry out of existence.

I read that, assumed the media professional who submitted it had accidentally flagged a particularly histrionic op-ed (as sometimes happens), and looked for the name of the Planned Parenthood official or other abortion rights supporter who had penned it. One expects to see such bias in ideological media, but one would hope for more impartiality among people claiming to be news writers. I’ll note way up top that the story does not substantiate the lede. There’s no way it could, to be honest. But, hey, other than that problem …

I’ll also note, up top, that if you want to work for one type of political campaign, practice writing “access” as much as possible. However, that word is a really weak word to use for news writing.

More generally, I find the anti-regulatory bias of this piece just fascinating. I’m trying to imagine a mainstream media report about another industry that had a bunch of health and safety problems. Many dozens of reports of legal, health and safety violations all across the country. Including, say, a major practitioner in that industry being convicted of serial murder of very young children and horrible treatment of customers. Urine. Blood-soaked instruments. Narrow hallways that prevented evacuation of dying customers. That sort of thing. And then imagine that legislatures passed stricter regulations for same. Then imagine that some of the regulated parties were unable to or chose not to meet the basic standards required of other similar outfits.

Do you think the lede would be about how awful the regulators were? Of course not! One might even expect to see a story about how awful it was that the regulated industry was unable to meet basic standards of care or health or safety.

Anyway, the entire story is something of a mess, but let’s just look at the next few sentences:

A wave of regulations that makes it too expensive or logistically impossible for facilities to remain in business drove at least a third of the closings. Demographic changes, declining demand, industry consolidation, doctor retirements and crackdowns on unfit providers were also behind the drop. More clinics in Texas and Ohio are preparing to shut as soon as next month.

Opponents have tried to stop access to abortion through civil disobedience, blockades and legal action. Clinics were bombed and doctors killed.

Again, such a fascinating opposite-day spin on meeting health and safety regulations. Unfortunately there’s not substantiation in terms of data to support the claim that meeting the same standards as other outpatient surgical centers do is somehow impossible. Perhaps that’s why the second line is added. More use of the word “access”! I’m trying to think of some way to respond to “clinics were bombed and doctors killed” but I won’t insult the reader’s intelligence. We all know that this hackish and unprofessional. Particularly for an article about safety and health regulations at abortion clinics that somehow doesn’t mention Kermit Gosnell …. once. Literally not once. No mention of the charges against him. The grand jury report. The convictions for murder.

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Associated Press: Think before you tweet

Romenesko published a memo the Associated Press sent out after a couple of tweets received negative attention from news consumers. We discussed one of those tweets in the post “#StandWithWendy? The Associated Press Does.” Long story short: the employee who #StoodWithWendy should not have done so. Now everybody gets to be reminded of the standards in play.

From: AP Standards
Sent: Monday, July 15, 2013 11:37 PM
Subject: “From the Standards Center” – Social media and breaking news: avoiding pitfalls

Think before you tweet. It seems simple enough, and it’s a rule of thumb that can prevent the vast majority of missteps that a journalist might make on social networks. But given some recent issues that have come up on Twitter, it’s a good time to review some best practices, courtesy of Social Media Editor Eric Carvin.

Among the recent problems:

* A tweet that a staffer sent from the @AP Twitter account, related to the abortion fight in Texas, included the hashtag #StandWithWendy — a reference to Wendy Davis, a state senator who’s been fighting to block a new abortion law. This was an attempt to get more attention for the tweet, but it clearly violates AP policies on steering clear of opinion or advocacy.

* AP staff tweets related to the Zimmerman verdict largely were very smart and professional, but a lot of critics pointed to a tweet that was critical of the verdict from a former, temporary staffer who was not employed by AP at the time of the tweet. The widespread reaction serves as a reminder of how a single tweet from an individual can affect the greater AP.

Seems ridiculous that AP would be blamed for a stringer’s tweet, but it’s a good reminder to all of us that our social media presence reflects on our various associations (sorry to my fellow Lutherans, St. Louis Cardinals fans and Herb Alpert aficionados).

As for the initial #StandWithWendy tweet, I’m glad that the AP acknowledged its existence and the problems therein. Specifically, the memo says that that there are social media lines that should not be crossed:

 

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Zeleny’s questions: 3 on shoes, 3 on catheters, 0 on abortion

Earlier this week, we discussed the six questions that ABC News’ reporter Jeff Zeleny asked of State Sen. Wendy Davis in the interview that aired on “This Week” on Sunday. We’ve been pointing out the problems in this religion ghost-soaked topic for years. Over the past week, those problems have been demonstrated in the softball interviews and coverage of Davis.

Zeleny took a bit of heat for the nature of his questions and inability to ask a single question (much less good question) about abortion, which is what the legislation under debate in Texas relates to, as the pro-choice protesters here demonstrate. That takes work in six questions. But today Zeleny proudly released a lengthier version of the interview.

A longer cut of our Wendy Davis interview, where we ask about her past, future — and yes, her catheter. http://yhoo.it/16LxnJ5 #PowerPlayers

Somehow, it’s even more obsequious than the initial interview. It’s downright shameful, in fact, how unborn children never make an appearance in this interview, much less the views born Texans hold on abortion. You can watch it here, and it could be used unaltered as a campaign or fundraising video. These are things no journalist should ever aim for.

I went ahead and transcribed the portions Jeff Zeleny spoke, which we’ll look at below. He introduced the piece and concluded it and had 18 questions or statements to which Davis responded. Please note the three shoe questions, the three catheter questions and the zero abortion questions:

Welcome to the fine print. I’m Jeff Zeleny Today we’re in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Stage West Theater having a conversation with State Sen. Wendy Davis, rising democratic star at the center of the abortion debate here in Texas.

(1) Senator. Thank you very much for joining us.

(2) So A week ago, no one knew State Sen Wendy Davis outside of Ft. Worth, now you’ve become a national and international name.

(3) Why did you decide to wear your running shoes. Let’s take a look at those. They’ve kind of been rocketing around the internet.

(4) These are the shoes now, probably the most famous shoes in politics. And is this a pink?

(5) But you’re also a runner. These are legitimate running shoes.

(6) How did you handle the personal side of this?

(7) With a catheter, is that right?

(8) I apologize for my rudeness. But I think I read in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram that you came prepared for …

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Tough questions: ‘You gonna put those shoes on again?’

Embedded above is a clip from CNN where media critic Howard Kurtz says what is bleedingly obvious to everyone — the media have cheered on Wendy Davis’ and her abortion filibuster in biased fashion. He asks the rhetorical question of how the same media would cover the same filibuster if, instead, it were against abortion.

This last week has been pretty bad, as far as journalism coverage of this religion ghost-haunted story goes. It’s almost as if the media, which did such a good job of pretending that the reality inside Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic had no policy implications, are confused as to why state legislatures are acting as if it did.

I was shocked to read what one critic compared to a fundraising letter for Wendy Davis in the New York Times. That vast majority of Americans who — in poll after poll — oppose late-term abortions are just ruthlessly ignored. Instead, the language of the piece is more like a watered-down NARAL press release:

Her feat of stamina and conviction gained thousands of Twitter followers in a matter of hours. Pictures of the sneakers she wore beneath her dress zoomed across computer and television screens. The press corps demanded to know her shoe brand. (Mizuno, it turned out.) Hundreds of men, women and children waited for hours at the Capitol to sit in an upstairs gallery and watch her in action, standing in lines that snaked around the rotunda. Even President Obama noticed, posting a Twitter message on Tuesday that read, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

It goes on like that to the end, (“the perfect symbol in a fight over what a woman can do”) ignoring actual polling on this particular bill or the topic of late-term abortion in general. (“One of the clearest messages from Gallup trends is that Americans oppose late-term abortion.”) It’s embarrassing.

First off, this paragraph ignores that the social media campaign was — as any media professional could figure out in a hearbeat — highly orchestrated. (Washington Post: “Wendy Davis ‘tweetstorm’ was planned in advance”) Not that it’s not worth mentioning, but it’s just fascinating how easily rolled by savvy public relations our media is willing to be, depending on the cause. And it needs to be acknowledged that abortion rights media campaigns are so highly successful in ways that almost no other public relations campaigns are because the media are fully compliant and overwhelmingly supportive of said campaigns. This is a scandal. (See, e.g., my substantive analysis of the media handling of Susan G. Komen last year.)

At least the Times piece is more subtle than this Guardian take on the matter:

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Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome.

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The media gushing over Texas filibusterer Sen. Wendy Davis continues in such a way as to make Chris Farley, above, seem restrained. Davis is the woman who has halted, at least for the time being, a bill that would require Texas abortion clinics to have the same standards other ambulatory surgery centers are required to have. It would also prohibit, with some exceptions, the killing of children who had reached five or more months’ gestation. And the bill would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of an emergency.

There are so very many fascinating things to look at, particularly in the context of the tremendous and notorious difficulty the mainstream media has had covering various problems at abortion clinics, including convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell’s abortion “house of horrors,” Texas’ own alleged killer of babies born alive, Douglas Karpen, and clinics around the country.

Let’s go over various media coverage of this religion ghost-haunted, hot-button story. One important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a forum for discussing abortion or doctrinal views on abortion or particular legislation about abortion. You are welcome to have your strongly held opinions on those matters and you are welcome to have those discussions — just not here. We keep discussions focused on media coverage.The goal is to see if the mainstream press can present the views of people on both sides of this debate in an accurate and balanced manner. It’s called journalism.

If you are interested in media coverage, in basic journalism, please join in the discussion.

OK, so first off, the Associated Press’s initial story (or headline), which actually was wrong, framed the debate word-for-word as did the pro-choice activists opposing the bill do.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans pass new restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.

This one-sentence off the wire was updated, of course, but the framing remained the same, if the hyperbole was somewhat softened, throughout mainstream media accounts. Almost invariably we got the pro-choice spin on this story as if it were the news. By “requiring tighter medical standards,” as USA Today put it, the bill would have “effectively close[d] most abortion clinics in Texas.”

But wait. Each of these clinics would be free to meet the same standards that all the other ambulatory surgery clinics in the state meet, so such reporting showed not just bias but particularly childish bias. This pro-choice perspective should be included within the story, of course, but it shouldn’t be adopted as the framing for the entire story, the only perspective offered, lest press releases from Planned Parenthood be indistinguishable from stories presented as news.

Moving on to how the media have treated Davis — I found it interesting that a search of the Los Angeles Times shows that the newspaper has already published 11 staff-written stories about her. By comparison, the Times only got around to three staff-written stories about Kermit Gosnell. One of those Davis stories was literally on the front page yesterday. Kermit Gosnell never made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and it took years after his indictment in the murders of seven children and one woman for the paper to even mention him at all, buried deep within the paper.

When North Dakota pro-life senator Margaret Sitte wrote, sponsored and passed various pro-life bills, did the Los Angeles Times cover her? Not even once. Some women who work on bills related to abortion are vastly more important than other women who work on bills related to abortion. As I joked on Twitter, “It’s almost like there’s a pattern with how the media cover abortion. It’s subtle, but if you look hard, you can almost detect something.” (Have your own fun with the Los Angeles Times search function here.)

Or take the Washington Post. You remember that it wasn’t until some high-profile and sustained media criticism shamed them into it that they finally got around to writing about Kermit Gosnell, after years of complaints. Compare that to this story the Post tweeted out to its 1,741,558 follwers:

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Clear eyes, full heart, can’t stop advocating for abortion

Last night, reporters were very excited to tweet extensively about an abortion filibuster going on in Texas.

While reporters struggled and struggled and struggled to find any reason at all to cover abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial, there was no struggle at all to give extensive coverage to Texas Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibustering of a bill that would protect unborn children who had made it to 20 weeks’ gestation, would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgery centers and would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

A sample from Sarah “local crime” Kliff, health policy reporter at the Washington Post:

This legislation is happening in the context of increased national awareness of serious problems at abortion clinics around the country, including Gosnell’s “house of horrors” and a Texas clinic run by Douglas Karpen that is accused of being even worse than Gosnell’s, if you can imagine that.

None of that context has made it into stories, near as I can tell. I asked for examples of any reporters tying this abortion debate to any of these other stories that the media have suppressed or downplayed and Texas Monthly reporter Erica Grieder (pictured here, with the big smile on the left, with Planned Parenthood honcho Cecile Richards and another Texas Monthly staffer Sonia Smith) responded “Republicans have made that argument & we’ve covered it.” The link goes to a story that says:

The bill’s sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, said that it “raises the standard of care” for women seeking abortions and protects the lives of the unborn. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who had repeatedly called for Governor Rick Perry to add abortion to the special session’s agenda, had frequently invoked the genuinely horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-based doctor who was recently convicted of murder after killing a baby who was born alive.

Oh how quickly we forget last month’s trial that the media only covered reluctantly at best! Gosnell, of course, was convicted of killing three babies and one woman, although by all accounts he was responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of babies born alive and at least one other mother.

Grieder said she’d correct the story (written by Sonia Smith). She also offered her version of the “Gosnell is just a local crime story” explanation by saying that the Texas legislature doesn’t oversee Gosnell and that covering the legislature is a “super-full-time task.”

I suggested the omission of mentions of Douglas Karpen might be more significant. She argued that the context of the bill had nothing to do with problems reported at abortion clinics since previous incarnations of this bill predated Karpen. Perhaps reporters might consider why this bill went further than previous bills that attempted to accomplish the same thing and if the context of Gosnell or Karpen might play a role there.

But, as Grieder notes, she literally just wrote a book about putting Texas in context. Perhaps people with opinions on abortion in Texas are very different from people with opinions on abortion elsewhere. And since the Texas AP reporters are all on vacation right now, we have to trust the folks who have stayed to report.

Although I must say that Grieder and Smith’s interview of Richards doesn’t give much reason for confidence. All of the hard-hitting questions she was forced to answer:

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AP’s abominable (but familiar) abortion approach

So I guess the Associated Press’ reportorial staff in Texas is on vacation this week. Good for them! I hope they’re having a great time. Not good for news consumers, though, as AP coverage of the Texas legislature couldn’t be worse right now.

Take this four-paragraph, six-sentence story published on USA Today that began:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans armed with Bible verses have given preliminary approval to some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country as time runs out on the Texas special legislative session.

What in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks does this mean? I have no idea. I have no idea what being “armed” with Bible verses means. The remaining five sentences don’t tell us. They also don’t tell us what the Bible verses are. Neither do we learn why in the world Bible verses were mentioned in this “news” report. Or what Democrats were armed with.

You’ll also note, of course, the perennial approach of referring to legislation regarding abortion in terms of “restriction” as opposed to “protection.” This is done so frequently that I doubt that reporters are even aware, at this point, of the built-in bias.

You’ll note the lack of any mention of Dr. Kermit Gosnell or various other doctors in the abortion industry who operate unsanitary, unsafe or dangerous clinics.

Or what about this AP story?

(AUSTIN, Texas) – More than 800 women’s rights protesters crowded into the Texas Capitol on Sunday to watch Democrats try a series of parliamentary maneuvers to stop the Republican majority from passing some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country.

Um, where to begin? How about with the fact that women are just as likely to be pro-life as pro-choice? Is that a good start? Do you think pro-life women would be surprised to find out that the Associated Press views them as hostile to women’s rights?

Or maybe the Associated Press could explain to us why wanting safer abortion clinics, or more sanitary abortion clinics, or less dangerous abortion clinics — such as the ones the media have reluctantly, if ever, covered — makes you anti-women’s rights. I’d really love to know.

Or what if you are really into the right to life for all women, born and unborn? Could the Associated Press explain to us why that makes one anti-women’s rights?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that abortion rights activists prefer to identify themselves as pro-women’s rights and those who support unborn children’s right to life as not. I get that. And I fully expect to see such labels used in, say, Mother Jones and other ideological press.

But unless the Associated Press is coming out as partisans in this debate, this is inappropriate bias for a hotly-contested story about a bill sponsored by … a female Texan who has talked about this legislation in the context of how it benefits women as well as the children growing in their wombs. Again, one might personally agree with one side or the other, but the story should not take sides.

Let’s go ahead and look at the next line in the story:

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The New York Times hides abortion editorial on front page

Yesterday after the House of Representatives voted 228 to 196 to limit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, I was surprised to find the following headline at the New York Times:

Democrats Defend Killing of Viable Fetuses to Appease Vocal Base

Only kidding, of course. As Matthew J. Franck of First Things wrote, that’s a New York Times headline we’ll never see. The real headline used exhibits the partisan editorializing we’ve come to expect from the Old Gray Lady:

G.O.P. Pushes New Abortion Limits to Appease Vocal Base

That was the title on the web version. A note says that a version of the article appeared on page A1 of the New York print edition with this headline:

Unfazed by 2012, G.O.P. Is Seeking Abortion Limits

You’ll search in vain for a label indicating the piece is “news analysis,” the fig leaf that allows editorials to be presented as news stories. Instead, the feature by Jeremy W. Peters is one long editorial sigh of frustration that a majority of Republicans are still, despite having lost the last presidential election, sticking with their pro-life agenda.

After Republicans lost the presidential election and seats in both the House and the Senate last year, many in the party offered a stern admonishment: If we want to broaden our appeal, steer clear of divisive social and cultural issues.

Yet after the high-profile murder trial of an abortion doctor in Philadelphia this spring, many Republicans in Washington and in state capitals across the country seem eager to reopen the emotional fight over a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. …

Much of the movement in recent weeks can be linked to the outcry over the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia physician who was convicted last month of first-degree murder for cutting the spines of babies after botched abortions.

His case, coming on top of successful efforts to curtail reproductive rights in several states over the last three years, has reinvigorated the anti-abortion movement to a degree not seen in years, advocates on both sides of the issue said.

If you were still wondering why it took an epic shaming by GetReligionista Mollie Hemingway to get journalists to cover the Gosnell story, there’s a hint. You can almost hear the frustration in the New York Times newsroom: “This is the type of nonsense that comes from bringing attention to Gosnell.”

But it gets better. Check out the next paragraph:

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